The apostle Paul is about to answer another critically foundational question: Is there a resurrection of the dead? In a society ó Western Civilization ó based originally on "Moses, Jesus, and Paul," it can be too easy to accept as fact not only Jesusí resurrection from the dead, but also that there will be a general resurrection from the dead on the last day. To process the magnitude of Jesusí resurrection and comprehend how difficult it would be to believe in such an event, our minds somehow have to be translated back to the environs of the days following Christís crucifixion. The disciples of Jesus as a whole were in despair when Jesus was crucified, their hopes having been dashed as Roman nails pinioned Him to the "tree." Their almost universal response, as they one-by-one heard of the empty tomb, was that the body had been stolen away. But as He demonstrated that His Spirit and soul had rejoined His body (which is the definition of resurrection), "by many convincing proofs," the disciples began to believe in His resurrection, and through that to believe in the general resurrection at the end of the age.
- Paulís proclamation - "Jesus is risen!" is the message that is proclaimed to the world. After the announcement has reverberated a bit among the sons of men, then the reasoned proofs of that resurrection are presented for the minds of men to process. As a reminder of his style when he first came to Corinth, the apostle Paul opens his discussion on the raising of the dead. "Now I make known to you, brethren," he heralds, "the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain" (I Corinthians 15:1,2). These are supremely powerful claims for those who are obedient to the gospel of Christ: The lost-and-damned-to-hell sinner is saved by this gospel, and the one who is now a saint stands in that salvation by holding fast to that gospel. These are simple words ó saved and stands ó but they represent the difference between an eternity in the fires of hell and an eternity in singing the eternal praises of the Almighty in heaven.
- Christ died for our sins - The term gospel, which means "the good news," is essentially synonymous with the expression the new covenant. The gospel contains the facts about what Jesus did in order to open up salvation for the world, and it contains the commands which the individual must obey in order for that salvation to be applied to him particularly ó it is the means "by which also you are saved." But it also contains all the rest of the teachings of the new covenant necessary to sustain the saint through personal challenges, through persecution, and through false doctrine ó it is the means by which "also you stand." "For I delivered to you as of first importance," affirms Paul, of the initial presentation of the gospel detailing what Christ has done, "what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures" (I Corinthians 15:3). This, of course, is tremendously great news, that Christ died for our sins, and that was in accordance with Old Testament prophecies that we might know for certain that this salvation is no fairy tale.
- Christ was buried - The apostle also notes as of first importance that "He was buried" (I Corinthians 15:4). The burial of Christ, though simple, is critical in the application of the gospel to the new creation in Christ.
- Christ was raised on the third day - Paul was also re-announcing that Christ "was raised on the third day according to the scriptures." This resurrection, verified by eye-witnesses, attested to by affirming miracles, and backed by Old Testament prophecies, is the keystone of the entire message of Christ.
Having laid his foundation, the apostle is going to argue from this point that there is a general resurrection from the dead. The saint of God is intensely interested in the argumentation here, for it is critical in strengthening his faith and enabling him also "to stand."
And that He Appeared
"Christ," says Paul, "died for our sins according to the scriptures." God goes to some lengths to establish manís need for forgiveness. He implanted a consciousness of right and wrong in manís heart. He buttressed that by thundering His commandments from Sinai, inscribing them on tablets of stone, and having the written record of them distributed all over the world. He established sacrifice as a means of atonement ó going all the way back to Cain and Abel ó and implemented organized sacrifices in Israel so that, for members of the human race, the statement of John the Immerser regarding Jesus would make sense: "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). Christ, the sacrificial lamb, died for our sins according to the scriptures. But that death is not all there is to the story!
- The resurrection - A crucifixion in Roman days was not difficult to document. But to document that Jesusí crucifixion was for the forgiveness of mankindís sins took considerable preparation and effort on the part of God the Father. Following the burial of Jesus in the garden tomb, the claim of scripture is that the Christ rose from the dead on the third day, and that this was in accordance with Old Testament prophecies. Establishing the truthfulness of this claim required a detailed plan and a careful execution of that plan to establish for rightly skeptical people that Jesusí resurrection really occurred. Part of that plan required carefully chosen eye-witnesses; part required attesting miracles; and part required fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies.
- The appearances - To the apostles, Luke records, Jesus "also presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days, and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3). The linchpin of Godís proof that He raised Jesus from the dead (and that the Bible is proven to be the word of God) is the testimony of these chosen witnesses. Paul therefore continues his thoughts concerning the gospel in this epistle to the Corinthian brethren, that Christ was raised from the dead, "and that He appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve." The apostle superadds, "After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as it were, to one untimely born, He appeared to me also" (I Corinthians 15:5-8). The apostle is wanting to answer some questions about the general resurrection from the dead, but to discuss that He first has to establish clearly that Jesus was raised. Hence he brings forward a bevy of witnesses who could establish the truthfulness of Jesusí bodily resurrection.
- The appearance to Paul - Jesusí appearance to Paul was different from the others, as noted by the apostleís words, that he was "one untimely born." All the other appearances of Jesus were manifestations of the Christ prior to His ascension. But His appearing to Paul, several years later, on the Damascus Road as a blinding light was as the glorified Christ. This was the Christ who had offered His spiritual blood in cleansing heaven as the great High Priest of the order of Melchizedek, making the sacrifice on the cross operative. This was the Jesus who had taken the heavenly throne of David as the great Messiah. This was the "Lamb as if slain" raised to the position of power to be the Savior of the world.
The gospel not only contains facts about Jesusí death, burial, and resurrection, but continues on from there. The gospel includes the records of His appearances as bodily resurrected, but it also continues on from there! The gospel incorporates the record that Jesus was glorified, and in this fashion appeared to Saul of Tarsus. The gospel is not limited to "the death, burial, and resurrection" of Jesus!
In both of Paulís letters to Timothy, he points out that he was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher. From the time of his immersion into Christ, Paul (or Saul as he was then known) began teaching in the synagogues at Damascus, "increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ" (Acts 9:22). Later, he and Barnabas were set aside by the church at Antioch of Syria to preach to the Gentiles. And while on his first missionary journey, some fifteen or sixteen years after the church began, the full apostleship of Jesus Christ was granted to Paul. Because his apostleship did not develop in the same way as the other twelve, that apostleship was challenged in places like Corinth. But, as Paul explained to the congregations of Galatia concerning the gospel, "For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:12). Hence, though he was "as it were, untimely born," he was fully assured in his apostleship.
- Least of the apostles - Paul indicates, in his epistle to the Roman brethren, that he and other Jews were "hardened" against the gospel. These hardened Jews, such as Paul, were often persecutors of the church before they would turn to the Lord. "From the standpoint of the gospel," Paul explains to the Christians in Rome, "they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of Godís choice, they are beloved for the sake of the fathers" (Romans 11:28). God orchestrated a sort of "timed release" of Jews into the obedience of Christ to maximize the influence of the gospel in the Jewish society. His purpose in so doing was to extract all the "remnant" who would believe in Christ before the 70 AD destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Paulís history being what it was, as part of this extraction process, he states, "For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God" (I Corinthians 15:9).
- The grace of God - Grace, in its broadest sense, has to do with all the gifts that God gives to man, whether it is the air he breathes or the food he eats. Grace, when applied directly to salvation, is connected with the offering of Christ on behalf of the lost. But Godís grace is also involved in His placing people in the body of Christ as servants. So Paul, formerly persecutor and blasphemer, is conscious of Godís working with him in positioning him as one of the very special apostles of Christ Himself. "But by the grace of God," he says, "I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me" (I Corinthians 15:10). This servant of Christ matter-of-factly brings out that he was able to labor more than any of the other apostles, but he is also careful to point out that the ultimate credit rightly devolves back to God.
- The preaching - Earlier in this letter the apostle had pointed out the importance of preaching. "God was well-pleased," he had noted, "through the Ďfoolishnessí of the message preached to save those who believe" (I Corinthians 1:21). In discussing his relationship with the church at Corinth, while emphasizing his "untimely born" apostleship, Paul points out that the important thing was whether people were able to hear and obey the gospel. "Whether then it was I or they," says he, referring to the other apostles such as Cephas [Peter], "so we preach and so you believed" (I Corinthians 15:11).
"Am I not an apostle?" Paul had earlier queried. "Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?" (I Corinthians 9:1). His credentials were fully known to the congregation in Corinth if they would honor that knowledge. And he therefore was a witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!
Without written documents, everything is fuzzy. Memory gets a little cloudy, details are imprecise or lost, information is only partially or even incorrectly transmitted. Hence it was, with no written New Testament, that there was much confusion about the general topic of the resurrection of the dead and the specifics of Jesusí own resurrection.
The saints sometimes get a bit confused in their thinking. Sometimes they draw false conclusions because they donít have all the pieces of scripture they need to make a correct correlation, and sometimes they just donít realize how one piece of information they do have negates a conclusion they have reached. Thus it is, and thus it was in the church at Corinth.
- No resurrection? - Rumors circulated among the early churches in the absence of the written record. Paul, in coaching Timothy, pointed out that some "talk will spread like gangrene." Some men, he said, "have gone astray from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and thus they upset the faith of some" (II Timothy 2:17,18). But a different problem surfaced in Corinth. "Now if Christ is preached," asseverated the apostle, "that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among say that there is no resurrection of the dead?" (I Corinthians 15:12). Here is a classic case of brethren not being able to connect two pieces of information; they apparently believed that Christ was raised from the dead, but at the same time were spreading the idea that there is no general resurrection from the dead on the last day. "But if there is no resurrection of the dead," Paul reasons, "not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, you faith also is vain" (I Corinthians 15:13,14). Paul is trying to help the brethren follow the thought process through to its ultimate conclusion. If there is no resurrection, he points out, then Christ has not been raised (O, they hadnít thought about that!). If Christ has not been raised, then the apostlesí preaching is totally empty; itís just hot air (O, they hadnít thought about that!). And if the apostlesí preaching was hot air, then their own personal faith was worthless ó based on nothing (O, they hadnít thought about that either!).
- False witnesses? - What about the testimony of the apostles? To a man they bore witness to that the fact that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead, and that He ascended to the throne of glory. But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Ö "Moreover, we are even found to be false witnesses of God," Paul further avers, "because we witnessed against God that He raised Christ, whom He did not raise, if in fact the dead are not raised" (I Corinthians 15:15). The apostle is really calling them out; are they willing to step forward and say that the apostles are all liars by testifying that Jesus rose from the dead?
- Still in your sins? - Christ on the cross was the sacrifice; it took Christís ascension to the heavenly Holy of Holies as High Priest and His sprinkling of the blood there to expiate the sins of the world. The brethren needed to think that through. "For if the dead are not raised," Paul continues in his syllogisms, "not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins" (I Corinthians 15:16,17). The apostle is really challenging them; do they want to maintain that there is no resurrection in the face of the corollary that they are still in their sins? "Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished," he superadds (I Corinthians 15:18).
"If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied," (I Corinthians 15:19). To have suffered and bled, and ultimately to die on behalf of a lie ó that Christ was raised from the dead ó would establish the apostles as pitiful fools! "But now," Paul pauses for effect, "Christ has been raised from the dead!" (I Corinthians 15:20). Hallelujah! He is risen indeed!
It is not a lie; it is the most powerful and glorious truth ó Christ is indeed risen from the dead! As a whole, the human race does not have a good track record when it comes to dealing with the unpleasant, unknown, or uncomfortable; hence as a whole, people do not rationally deal with death and life hereafter. But for those willing to honestly process the truth about physical death and eternal death, the power of Christís resurrection from the dead is all-important! If Christ has not been raised, has been Paulís reasoning, then there is no resurrection from the dead for anyone. And if there is no resurrection from the dead, everything is empty, vain. In consequence, he also points out, that if Christ has not been raised, then those who sacrificed everything on earth for the sake of the gospel and the hope of life eternal are "of all men most to be pitied." They sacrificed for a lie. "But," says he, "Christ has been raised from the dead." "He was raised," was a previous point from the letter, and established as fact, "on the third day according to the scriptures."
- The first fruits - The first fruits was established by the Lord as part of the Law of Moses from the beginning. On the feast of the beginning of the grain harvest (later known as Pentecost), the children of Israel were to bring the first and best of the best of their field to the Lord. This "first fruits" offering set the stage for the usage of that terminology to refer to the " first and best of the best" in the writings of the New Testament. Paul notes, then, that "Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep" (I Corinthians 15:20). He is, of course, the best of the best; and He is the first One to rise from the dead. The rest of the harvest, those who have fallen asleep in Christ (physically dead), will follow Him who was the first to be resurrected, and this will occur at the Lordís second coming.
- Adam to Christ - Adam was the first of the race of physical men (not that man is totally physical, but this is the comparison here), whereas Christ is the first of the race of spiritual men. Through Adam came physical and spiritual death. Physical death spread to all mankind ó even newborns ó because of manís separation from the tree of life. Spiritual death spread to all who are old enough to be in charge of their eternal destiny through their own sin and subsequent separation from God. "For since by a man came death," the apostle explains, concerning physical death, "by a Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive" (I Corinthians 15:21,22). Natural manís efforts ended in disaster and physical death; spiritual Manís efforts resulted in hope and the resurrection all in Christ to eternal life! "But," he gently brakes the conversation, "each in his own order; Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christís at His coming" (I Corinthians 15:23).
What a magnificent plan and opportunity God has for His children of faith! It is true that without Christ, we are "strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:12). But through Christ, we who would have been so hopeless are now brought into the realm where we have the secure hope of our own resurrection from the dead. This "one hope," referred to over and over in the sacred writings, is not a wondering on our part whether it will happen. It will happen. The "hope" has to do with wondering when it will happen. Hence, we wait, looking to the skies. "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself" (Philippians 3:20,21).
The Last Enemy
When Jesus approached the tomb of His friend Lazarus, he was "deeply moved within" (John 11:38). He was upset and to some degree angry, not only at the death of Lazarus, but that death to mankind had to happen at all. Through sin, spiritual death entered into the world; and through sin, physical death came upon all mankind because of manís separation from the tree of life. Hence, even Jesus Himself was going to drink of the bitter of cup of physical death in order to deliver man from the results of his folly. "In Adam all die," noted Paul. "Since then the children [spiritual sons of God] share in flesh and blood," assayed Hebrewsí author, "He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives" (Hebrews 2:14, 15). "In Christ," therefore says Paul, "all shall be made alive.
- The end - The resurrection of the dead will happen, and for those who are "in Christ," it will be a happy and glorious resurrection. "Christ," asseverates the apostle Paul, is "the first fruits," the first one to be resurrected, "the first born from the dead" (Colossians 1:18). Since Christís ascension to glory and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles on the Day of Pentecost, 30 AD, the gospel of Christ has been going out to all the world and bringing those of an honest and good heart into fellowship with the Lord, delivering them from the domain of darkness and transferring them into the kingdom of Christ. Thus, the saved are prepared for their resurrection ó reserved for "those who are Christís" ó and this resurrection will occur at His coming. "Then comes the end," says Paul, "when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power" (I Corinthians 15:24). The earth and the material universe will have been destroyed, the wicked will have been cast into the lake of fire, and the saints "will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Matthew 13:43). All earthly authority has ceased, and the powers of darkness have been cast into the eternal hell fire which was prepared for them. This is the end; this is when the kingdom is delivered as a finished product by Jesus to His heavenly Father!
- Expectantly reigning - Since Christ has taken the throne of the universe at His ascension and heavenly anointing, He is reigning. In connection with the coronation of King Jesus, Satan and his angels had been cast into Tartarus, the great "abyss" of the book of Revelation. Judgment would have been executed at that point, but the Lord has to wait so He can run a salvage operation in rescuing the sons of men who will listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd. Hence He reigns, but even He must wait. "For He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death" (I Corinthians 15:25,26). The devil and his minions have already been cast out of heaven, mankind is being separated into sheep and goats, and the stage is being set for the destruction of death itself.
So, death is "the last enemy." "By man came death," and "in Adam all die." Jesus, in being resurrected from the dead, has been placed in the power position where He reigns and rules over all. At the end, He will take His seat on His glorious throne, the great white throne of Judgment Day. Satan and his angels will be cast into the lake of fire. The unrighteous among men will be cast into the lake of fire. "And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire," is the apostle Johnís description of his vision. "This is the second death, the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:14). This is how "the last enemy" is abolished!
All Things in Subjection
The grand conclusion is when Jesus delivers up the kingdom to His Father. At this point all rule and authority other than His will have been abolished; all the earthly thrones will be gone, and all the demonic orders will have been cast into the lake of fire and brimstone. Because Jesus humbled Himself by emptying Himself of all divine advantage to take the form of a bond-servant, because He was obedient to the point of death ó even so horrible as death on the cross while carrying the burden of all of mankindís sins ó "God highly exalted Him." The nature of this exaltation is such that the Father "bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow ó of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth ó and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father" (Philippians 2:7-11).
- The kingdom delivered - The kingdom of Christ is a prominent feature of the sacred scriptures, going clear back to the prophecy made to David in about 1000 BC by Nathan the prophet. The writings of the New Testament make it clear that this kingdom is a spiritual kingdom, that Jesus is the King who sits on the throne of David in heaven, and that another name for this kingdom is the church. The Old Testament saints will be numbered among those who are part of the church at Jesusí second coming, "that apart from us they should not be made perfect" (Hebrews 11:40).
- All things in subjection - When Jesus was raised to the throne on high to rule the Gentiles with a rod of iron, "He [the Father] put all things in subjection under His feet" (I Corinthians 15:27). "For in subjecting all things to Him," says Hebrewsí author, "He left nothing that is not subject to Him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to Him" (Hebrews 2:8). The process of subduing the earth, extracting all who will hear and follow the voice of the Great Shepherd, and quashing the forces of darkness is still going on. Hence, as Paul has previously stated in this first epistle to the Corinthian brethren, ""For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet." "But when He says, ĎAll things are put in subjection,í it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him." It is an obvious deduction that the Father, who is orchestrating all this, will not be put in subjection to the Son.
- Jesus in subjection - "Then comes the end," says Paul, "when He delivers up the kingdom to the God and Father." When everything is subdued by the power of King Jesus, when the forces of darkness and wicked men have been banished to the eternal garbage heap, the kingdom is finally laid at the feet, so to speak, of the Father. "And when all things are subjected to Him," is the apostleís annotation, "then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, that God may be all in all" (I Corinthians 15:28).
All things are pressing on to the final events and purpose of God. This is what the apostle Paul called "the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth" (Ephesians 1:10). What God is doing is enfolding every saint in Christ, and then enveloping Christ in Himself, that He "may be all" and "in all." But just as the Father, the Son, and the Spirit each maintain their identities in the eternal city, so each saint maintains his identity while being one in God and God in him. "I will give him," says Jesus, "a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it" (Revelation 2:17). Each child of God is eternally special in the midst of this awesome, magnificent, and totally complete plan!
Baptism for the Dead?
"If there is no resurrection of the dead," was the apostle Paulís reasoning, "not even Christ has been raised." He then goes on in his syllogism, "And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins." But, of course, Christ has been raised from the dead, having established the truthfulness of that fact "by many convincing proofs" (Acts 1:3). The apostle then proceeded to detail the culmination of the concept of the resurrection from the dead, pointing out that the final enemy to be destroyed would be death, and that the kingdom would then be delivered up by Jesus to the Father. But now he wants bring in another reason for the importance of the resurrection of the dead.
- Five "immersions" of the New Testament - There are five "immersions" of the New Testament writings having to do with people. The first is the immersion of John the Immerser, which had the title "the immersion of repentance," which was in water, and which was for the forgiveness of sins. The second is immersion in Jesusí name, which is in water, which is for the forgiveness of sins, and which grants the indwelling Holy Spirit. The third is the immersion in the Holy Spirit, which happened only twice ó once to the apostles on the Day of Pentecost at the beginning of the church, and secondly to the first Gentiles to open the way for their salvation ó and which consisted of three signs: the sound like a mighty rushing wind, tongues as of fire breaking off and resting on the heads of those so immersed, and speaking in other recognizable languages not studied by the person upon whom this immersion was outpoured. The fourth is the immersion of fire in the lake of fire for the wicked following the Day of Judgment. And the fifth Ö
- The immersion of suffering - The apostles James and John, during the days of Jesusí earthly sojourn, approached Jesus through their mother requesting to be seated at His right and His left hands, respectively, in the coming kingdom. Jesus queried whether they would be able to drink "the cup" He was about to drink, a reference to His suffering in connection with the cross. Upon receiving a brave but somewhat ignorant affirmative, the Lord responded, "The cup that I drink you shall drink, and you shall be immersed with the immersion with which I am immersed" (Mark 10:39). The "cup" and the "immersion" were yet upcoming for Jesus, although He is recorded as speaking in the present tense in Markís gospel (in His mind it was already upon Him). As He Himself stated in Lukeís account: "I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have an immersion to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished" (Luke 12:49,50). This immersion for Jesus was His suffering, and the apostles were promised that they would experience this same immersion; they would suffer terribly for the sake of the gospel.
- Immersion for the dead - After discussing the ultimate results of the resurrection from the dead, the apostle then comments: "Otherwise, what will those do who are immersed for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they immersed for them?" (I Corinthians 15:29). While there are many fanciful interpretations of this verse, knowing that there is an immersion of suffering makes it simple and straight-forward to understand. What will those do who suffer immensely for the sake of those who are dead in their sins and trespasses? If there is no resurrection from the dead, why should Christians suffer so much in getting the gospel to the lost?
The "one immersion" that all who are Christians have experienced is immersion into Christ. But many have had the opportunity, and many will have the opportunity, to experience the immersion of suffering on behalf of those who are outside of Christ and desperately need to hear the gospel before they perish forever. But if there is no resurrection of the dead, why bother?
The first real intense persecution the early church experienced was brought on by one Saul of Tarsus, who later became the apostle Paul. "I am not fit to be called an apostle," he had mentioned to the Corinthian brethren, "because I persecuted the church of God." It seems, then, that what Paul had meted out, he received in return. Before Paulís immersion into Christ, Ananias ó who was sent by the Lord to tell Paul what to do and to immerse him ó was told concerning this now former persecutor, "I will show him how much he must suffer for My nameís sake" (Acts 9:16). As James and John and the other apostles were to drink of the cup that Jesus drank, and to be immersed with the same immersion of suffering with which Jesus was immersed, so it was with Paul. He was "baptized" for the dead; he suffered greatly in getting the gospel of glory to the lost.
- No resurrection? - "If we have hoped in Christ in this life only," Paul had earlier commented, "we are of all men most to be pitied." If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not only have Christians been on the proverbial "lost goose chase," but more than that, they have suffered intensely for no reason at all. "If the dead are not raised," the apostle had queried, "why then are they [Christians] immersed [in suffering] for them [the lost]?" He superadded, ""Why are we also in danger every hour?" (I Corinthians 15:30). Danger every hour!!! If there is no resurrection, there would be absolutely zero reason to suffer that intensely for a stupid cause.
- Paulís protest - Was Paul a stupid man? The depth of his writings show clearly that he was not impaired in any way mentally. Furthermore, his writings are step-by-step logical presentations, as contrasted to the meandering philosophies of other intelligent, but confused and looking-for-answers men and women. Concerning, then, the idea that he would suffer so much for a stupid meaningless cause, he writes: "I protest, brethren, by the boasting in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord; I die daily" (I Corinthians 15:31). Amid much suffering, Paul finally brought the gospel to Corinth, of which the brethren in the congregation were the beneficiaries. That is why he could use the expression, "by the boasting in you"; the fact that the congregation existed and these souls were being saved were his "boast." And when he opened his second epistle to these same brethren, he also commented on the intensity of suffering he had undergone. "For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren," he appeals, "of our affliction which came to us in Asia [of which Ephesus was the regional capital], that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead" (II Corinthians 1:8,9). It is easy to see why he would "protest" over the idea that there is no resurrection; that was the only hope he had! "If from human motives I fought with the wild beasts at Ephesus," is his comment in this epistle about the same suffering, "what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, ĎLet us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.í " (I Corinthians 15:32).
Nearly everywhere the apostle went, he suffered persecution for the sake of the gospel. Some of that suffering is recorded in the book of Acts, but much of it apparently is not, such as these references to Ephesus. What a picture that must have been, the apostle Paul successfully fending off the wild beasts in the colosseum of Ephesus! "I was," he said to Timothy, "delivered out of the lionís mouth" (II Timothy 4:17). To which he added, "The Lord will deliver me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom." There is the resurrection of the dead!
Morals and the Resurrection
Peopleís actions are based on the information important to them, and how they process that information. If mankind can be convinced that there is no resurrection from the dead, and thus there is no accountability for earthly actions, then morals automatically decline. When men in general do not want to think about consequences of their actions ó individually or nationally ó they gravitate toward meaningless pleasures in order to dull and distract the thinking. When Isaiah, for example, prophesied the coming destruction of Jerusalem at the hand of the Babylonians, he also prophesied what the Jewsí response would be. "The Lord," he said, "called you to weeping, to wailing, to shaving the head, and to wearing sackcloth; instead there is gaiety and gladness, killing of cattle and slaughtering of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine." The revelers, instead of repenting of their sins and turning to God, came back with this glib response: "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (Isaiah 22:12,13). This, then, was quoted by the apostle Paul to make the point that if there is no resurrection from the dead, then nothing matters, and letís go grab for all the gusto we can get while we are still breathing.
- The pagan world view - The pagan world view, which is increasingly that of American and the worldís societies, is that all that matters is this life on earth. The truth, of course, is that rather than focusing on "quality of life," mankind needs to focus on "quality of eternity." When men focus on earth, and maximizing their personal pleasures on earth, then they become selfish and brutal in varying degrees toward their fellow men and women. Hence the world ends up with the bar scene, the entertainment environment, the drug culture, and a multiplicity of other venues for mankind to duck personal responsibility. "Do not be deceived," Paul warns the brethren in Corinth about these worldly environments. "Bad company corrupts good morals" (I Corinthians 15:33). The possibility of a Christianís being deceived about his ability to handle certain corrupting circumstances is clearly real. There is a resurrection from the dead, and we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ to render an account for our deeds done in the body, whether good or bad.
- Discipline of the mind - The Christian ends up having to associate with the people of this world, both for business and for personal evangelism. Rather than being deceived, the injunction is this: "Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame" (I Corinthians 15:34). To share the knowledge of God as revealed through the gospel of Jesus Christ takes nearly constant focus on the part of those who carry the message. Sin wages war on the soul of the saint, blunts his focus, saps his spiritual energy, and causes him to miss many opportunities for teaching the truth of Christ. And if it wasnít possible for the Christian to stop sinning, why would the apostle Paul and the Holy Spirit tell him to?
Ultimately, the concept of the resurrection from the dead helps the follower of Christ clear his way through a lot of confusion, and helps him learn to focus on what is important. If something really doesnít matter when Jesus comes, it really is of small importance now; that dent in the car doesnít really matter, or the money that was stolen. At the resurrection from the dead, those things wonít be the subject of any discussion. But the things that matter when Jesus comes are the things that should really count now. Are we purifying ourselves, as He is pure? Are we raising our children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord? Are we conducting ourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity? Are we shining as lights in the world, living as children of God in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation?
The Resurrection Body?
It is very challenging for the human mind to move from the physical to the spiritual. We all begin by learning everything through the five physical sense gates. But to move through the correct spiritual gate, to see and hear in the proper spiritual dimension, is a real step which, sadly, most of mankind will not take. The prophecy of Isaiah, and quoted by Jesus as recorded in Matthewís account, illustrates the failure for spiritual eyes and ears to develop, not only for the Jews of New Testament times, but really for most residents of this planet. "You will keep on hearing, but will not understand," Jesus quoted, "and you will keep on hearing but not perceive; for the heart of this people has become dull, and with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes, lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I should heal them" (Matthew 13:14,15). Thus, with the teaching on the resurrection of the dead, some in Corinth struggled with the concept of what a spiritual, resurrection body would be.
- What kind of body? - The gods of the ancients were variations off the human body, and likewise the depictions of "aliens" created by modern man. It is difficult to picture movement without the appendages, or seeing without the eyes. Hence, the apostle Paul anticipates some difficulty on the part of the Corinthian saints in grasping the concept of a resurrection body. "But someone will say," he posits, " ĎHow are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?í " (I Corinthians 15:35). In the context of this section of the epistle, this is not an honest question from someone seeking to understand; it is a hostile question from someone trying to make the concept of a resurrection ludicrous. Remember, "some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead." That is why the initial response of the apostle is, "You fool!", castigating the individual for his failure to be able to move from the physical to the spiritual.
- Seed analogy - The apostle is willing to meet the brethren at their comprehension level in his attempt to paint the spiritual picture for them. "That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies," is his initial analogy, taking the concept of the seed to the resultant plant as his physical illustration. "That which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else" (I Corinthians 15:36,37). The picture is that just as a kernel of wheat is sown in the ground, just so the physical corpse of man is planted at his burial. "But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own" (I Corinthians 15:38). The wheat plant which arises out of the seed does not look anything like the kernel which was planted; just so, the resurrection body will not be anything like the physical body which was interred. Also, just as each seed has a specific plant which develops from that seed, each person planted in the earth has his own resurrection body which he will receive at the last day.
Satan in his cunningness does everything he can to confuse people about the truths of the resurrection. Hindus, Buddhists, and New Agers have been conned into believing in reincarnation. The Pharoahs and others had their servants buried with them, anticipating that those servants would still be subject to them in a future world. Others have been convinced that once a person dies, they just vanish and cease to exist in any form. But the scripture is consistently emphatic: there is a resurrection of the dead on the last day, and that resurrection body and the spiritual universe in which is lives will not be like this present one!
Flesh and Glory
God is an imaginative and variegated Creator. For the benefit of man, among other reasons on His agenda, He created a tremendous array of flora and fauna for manís sustenance and pleasure. Whether it is the majestic mountain view, the sweet scent of a lilac, the soft touch of a babyís cheek, or the orchestral strains from one of the grand concertos, the senses of man are delighted by Godís design. Man, if he can only take one step back and contemplate, would marvel at the immense creative power of the Almighty, and begin to believe that, if this creation could be so amazing, what He could do in "the new heavens and new earth" would be even more awe inspiring.
- Flesh - The seeds give rise to plants, the plant being designed by God to accomplish his purpose. And each different kind of seed produces its specific kind of plant, as Paul notes, "God gives it a body just as He wished." But the same is true of animal life. "All flesh is not the same flesh," he comments, "but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish" (I Corinthians 15:39). Again, Godís tremendous creative power is on display in the design of the varieties of flesh, man being the superlative example.
- Glory - Not only did the Almighty create the things on earth, He also created the shiny things in the sky. "There are also heavenly bodies and earthly bodies," is Paulís observation, "but the glory of the heavenly is one, and the glory of the earthly is another" (I Corinthians 15:40). By being able to draw on the distinction between the "earthly" bodies which do not shine and the "heavenly" bodies which do, the apostle is using the elements of the physical creation to lay groundwork for the point he is going to make with regard to the resurrection body. And even in regard to those which shine, the apostle notes that they differ according to Godís creative desires. "There is one glory of the sun," he remarks, "and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory" (I Corinthians 15:41). God is a master at creating things with glory!
- The resurrection of the dead - God can create seeds which produce plants far different from the seed which germinated. God can create all kinds creatures with flesh. And God can create all kinds of bodies with glory. "So also is the resurrection from the dead," asserts the apostle. "It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body" (I Corinthians 15:42-44). With the basis which Paul laid, it is now believable that there is a resurrection body. And what a body that will be: imperishable, glorious, powerful, and spiritual!
The scoffers would snort, "How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?" The apostle shredded these objections with the demonstration even from the physical realm of Godís awesome power and ability to create flesh and glory. From seed to plant, he also illustrated the power of God to produce something far different from that which originally dropped into the ground. Thus he combines all these to emphasize "It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body." From this the saint can take great encouragement and hope, from the rigors of daily living to the edge of his own graveside. "It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory." Is this worth pressing on for? "It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power." Is this worth sacrificing for? "It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body." Is this worth suffering for? "If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body!!!!"
First the Natural, then the Spiritual
In the days of Moses, God did wonders in the land of Ham, and awesome things by the Red Sea. But these are small, small in comparison to what the Almighty has done through Jesus. God created the heavens and the earth in six days, but all that He did was create a universe that is wearing out like a garment. When God raised Jesus from the dead, however, and seated Him at the right hand of power, He brought into existence that which is permanent. Jesus is not only "the first-born of all creation," as the One through whom all things came into being, but He is more importantly "the first-born from the dead," the One through which all things eternal come into being (Colossians 1:15,18). The crossing of the Red Sea was seen; it illustrated in a demonstrable way the physical power of God. The after effects of Creation are seen; it opens the way to understanding the creative and maintenance power of God. But the resurrection of Jesus out of the depths of Hades and seating Him in glory were unseen, and set the stage for comprehending the spiritual power of God through faith.
- Resurrection of the saints - There has only been one permanent resurrection, that of Jesus the Son of God. Other resurrections are recorded in the sacred writings, but none of those resurrections was permanent; each had to die again, awaiting the general resurrection on the last day. But what a resurrection that will be for the saints of God! Listen and contemplate the words of the apostle Paul: "It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body!" The scriptures therefore picture the saints as awaiting eagerly the return of the Lord and their receiving their resurrection bodies Ė powerful, glorious, imperishable, spiritual.
- Physical to spiritual - Godís earnest desire is that people choose to serve Him ó the immortal, the invisible, the eternal God ó without being able to see or in any way sense Him. Those who are worthy to walk with Him in white are those who faced the challenges of an earthly existence and who, in spite of difficulties, persecutions, and challenges, serve Him by faith. Everything, therefore, is designed by the All Wise to be faith building. Thus, the apostle Paul says, "If there is a natural body, there is a spiritual body" (I Corinthians 15:44).
- First Adam to last Adam - To buttress his point that the presence of a physical body sets the stage for an upcoming spiritual body, the apostle brings into view the progenitors of the physical and spiritual races. "So also it is written," he instructs, " ĎThe first man, Adam, became a living soul.í The last Adam," he asseverates, "became a life-giving spirit" (I Corinthians 15:45). Adam was the ancestor of physical man, the first of the eternal living souls. The last Adam, a reference to Jesus as the progenitor of the spiritual race, was the one who was able to bring the lost of mankind back into fellowship with God, and thus was called "a life-giving spirit." "The first man," emphasizes the apostle, "is from the earth; earthy" (I Corinthians 15:46). Earthy man, then, has his focus on earth rather than on things above. "The second man [Jesus] is from heaven." The Lord, then, "the first-born from the dead," came to produce a set of spiritual offspring whose interest would be on the things of heaven.
"You are from below," Jesus told the Jewish hierarchy, "I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world" (John 8:23). By helping His disciples to recognize that He was from above, and that He would be the ancestor of special spiritual people, He would also help them to be secure in the hope of a future spiritual body. Through the gospel, He moves truth seekers from a focus on the physical to a focus and appreciation of the spiritual. These truth seekers, then, come to firmly believe that, if there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body, and to then govern their time on earth accordingly!
The Image of the Heavenly
Abraham was a great man of faith. All true Christians, be they from the ranks of the real Jews or from the ranks of the Gentiles, are called "the seed [or descendants] of Abraham." What is literally called "the faith of Christ," (Galatians 2:16), is also called "the faith of Abraham" (Romans 4:16). The faith characteristic of Abraham was that he believed that "what [God] had promised, He was able also to perform" (Romans 4:21). In Abrahamís case, what he believed was that God was able to make him a "father of many nations," which came true as Gentiles began to flood into the church. What, then, would be promised to Christians? What would they have to believe that God was able to perform?
- Earth to heaven - The first Adam was formed out of the dust of the ground. As such, he is described by Paul as "earthy." The first Adam and his descendants are therefore earthily focused ó their interests are in buying and selling, planting and harvesting, tearing down and building, marrying and being given in marriage. The second Adam from above was "born from the dead," as was aptly phrased by the songwriter, "to raise the sons of earth," born [from the dead] "to give them second birth." Most of earthís residents, then, remain in their earthly condition. But those who participate in immersion into Christ are actually spiritually "born from above." The apostle Paul describes it thusly: "As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly" (I Corinthians 15:48).
- Image bearers - Physically, mankind wears the image of Adam. "Through Adamís DNA, we were all made this way!" But through the faith of Christ, those who obey the gospel are spiritually remade in the image of Christ, the Son of God. "And just as we have borne the image of the earthy," Paul explains, "we shall also bear the image of the heavenly" (I Corinthians 15:49). The thrust of the passage parallels that of Romans chapter six. "For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death," notes Paul in reference to the individualís being immersed into Christ, "certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection" (Romans 6:5). The word "shall" is not denoting a future tense resurrection of the body at Jesusí second coming; it is denoting the certainty that the Christian comes forth from the watery grave in the likeness of Jesusí coming forth from His earthly grave. Similarly, the I Corinthians passage is pointing out the certainty of bearing the image of Christ following the individualís immersion in Jesusí name. Thus the holy one of God has been created in the image of Christ in the inner man, and can learn to walk accordingly.
- Faith to sight - All this connected with being born from above takes place in the inner man, in the realm of the unseen. "Though our outer man is decaying," said Paul, "yet our inner man is being renewed day by day." "We look," he also stated, "not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are unseen" (II Corinthians 4:16,18). But the fulfillment of being the image of Christ in the inner man, and being in the likeness of Christ in His resurrection, will some day bear its fruition in the saintís resurrection from the dead. Thus what is by faith now will be by sight at the Lordís second coming and forevermore!
No human power could cause an individual to be born from above. No human effort could cause a person to bear the image of Christ in his inner man. This, then, is the center of "the faith of Christ," the belief that in this arena "what God has promised, God is able to perform." Those therefore who truly live by faith ought "to walk in the same manner as He walked" (I John 2:6). Strengthened by the Spirit in the inner man, let us demonstrate the transformative power of bearing the image of Christ as a truly resurrected spiritual people.
Understanding a Mystery
The body you sow, averred the apostle Paul, is not the body which bursts forth from the ground. It is sown in dishonor, he informed us; it is raised in glory. Jesus, then, at His second coming "will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself" (Philippians 3:20). Saints donít get to know much about that new resurrection body except to know that it is bright, shining, and powerful!
- Spiritual eternity - One of the great themes running throughout the scriptures is the movement from the physical to the spiritual. "The natural," says Paul, is "first," then "the spiritual." God has worked hard for millennia to produce a truly spiritual people, a people of "the faith," who are interested in spiritual things and willing to take Godís word as the only exposition of those things which are of that spiritual realm. "They will walk with Me in white," declared the King of kings, "for they are worthy" (Revelation 3:4). "Now I say this, brethren," is Paulís comment, "that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable" (I Corinthians 15:50). The kingdom of God is another name for the church. The picture is that those who are in the church of the living God, along with Old Testament saints, following Judgment Day, are moved into the eternal kingdom. "Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father," was Jesusí statement (Matthew 13:43). The natural is gone; all that exists is spiritual. Hence, "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." Those faithful saints are rewarded for their faith ó now complete as spirit, soul, and resurrection body ó as they have now inherited the kingdom of God. "The perishable," was the Spirit-inspired statement, does not "inherit the imperishable."
- A mystery - The apostle is willing to let the brethren in Corinth in on a secret. "Behold," says he, "I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed" (I Corinthians 15:51). When the Lord Jesus returns, and His glory splits the sky, not all saints will have died. Some will have met the challenge of the Lord which He stated in these words: "However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find the faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). They will have maintained their faith through the trials and tragedies of some of the most difficult of times and will in a special way share in the resurrection.
- The last trumpet - The scriptures affirm that the Lord Jesus "will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God" (I Thessalonians 4:15). Paul calls this "the last trumpet." "We shall all be changed," he asseverates, "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed" (I Corinthians 15:52). The spirits and souls, intertwined, of the saints who have perished on earth will be brought back with Jesus out of Paradise and will receive their resurrection bodies when they, so to speak, hit the ground. Those who never "fell asleep" will instantly receive their resurrection bodies in that "twinkling of an eye."
This, then, has been intention of the Almighty God from before the foundation of the world. He spent the eons preparing for a special, spiritual people ó those who have been "born from above" as new creations in Christ Jesus. Earthly existence, by His design, has been a mere testing ground. Its entire history has been orchestrated to find those among the sons of men who would lift their eyes to see the Son of God in glory as revealed in the sacred writings. These, by faith, are those who are already shining on the inside, awaiting their completeness in receiving their resurrection bodies of glory. Praise God for His marvelous and almost incomprehensible plan!
Death Swallowed up in Victory
The fear of death has always plagued mankind. Whether their faces are covered with war paint to mask their fear, whether they drown their thoughts with the "Rebel yell," or whether they put on the bold face and bluster their way to their end, the fear of death occupies a good sized chunk of their minds. It is "through fear of death," says Hebrewsí author, that all mankind is "subject to slavery all their lives" (Hebrews 2:15). But the great Deliverer has come from Zion and has set the captives free! The saint, then, who believes that Jesus has saved him from his sins through the sacrifice of Christ and His intercessory priestly offering, and who believes that God has given him the Spirit of promise as a guarantee of Godís intention to complete His purchase option, also believes that Jesus is coming again to raise him from the dead. He, by the faith revealed in the pages of Godís holy word, is thus set free from fear of death, and eagerly looks to the sky for coming of His Savior and King, knowing that "when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him just as He is" (I John 3:2).
- Re-emphasis - The apostle Paul has repeatedly emphasized to the brethren in Corinth that there is a resurrection from the dead. "The dead will be raised imperishable," he had just stated, "and we shall all be changed." He goes on: "For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality" (I Corinthians 15:53). This is tremendously encouraging and tremendously exciting!
- The victory - The time will come when the last trumpet will sound. "But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable," is the affirmation of the apostle, "and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ĎDeath is swallowed up in victory!í " (I Corinthians 15:54). Man can conquer mountains, cross over to the moon, and explore the molecular structure of the cell. But man cannot conquer death. Sooner or later the "reaper" comes, and whether he is "grim" or whether it is a time of rejoicing depends on what type of resurrection the individual will receive. For the Christian, the resurrection is a time of great victory, for a great enemy of man has just been swallowed up and has disappeared!
- The sting of death - The questions, in a bit of mocking tone, are posed: " ĎO death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?í " (I Corinthians 15:55). The saints of God are going to be able to dance on the tomb of death itself, knowing that there is no more sting. "The sting of death is sin," Paul writes, "and the power of sin is the law" (I Corinthians 15:56). There is a sting to death; and the body itself is justified in fearing the pain connected with that sting. Whether long and painful, or short and labored, the final moments approaching a personís last breath are challenging to face, just as facing the sting of a wasp or scorpion. Through Adam and Eveís separation from the tree of life because of their sin, physical death passed on to all mankind ó so much so that even Jesus Himself had to go through physical death in order that such a death might be conquered. Sin itself derives its power from the law, the initial or continued commands of God. Adam and Eve violated the command of God, and died physically as well as spiritually. Had there been no command, there would have been no violation, and had there been no violation, there would have been no death. But violation occurred, and physical death also resulted. And so it continues until Jesus comes again.
"But thanks be to God," says Paul, "who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!" (I Corinthians 15:57). Jesus had victory over physical death, and through Him those who are in Christ also will have their victory. This, then, is the "one hope" referenced throughout the writings of the New Testament.
Your Toil Is not in Vain
"How do some among you," the apostle Paul queries the Corinthian Christians, "say that there is no resurrection of the dead?" All of Christianity and the truthfulness of the Bible rest on the point expressed by Dr. Luke: "To these [apostles] He [Jesus] also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God" (Acts 1:3). From the verity that Jesusí resurrection occurred is derived the point that all true disciples of Christ will receive the glorious resurrection at Jesusí coming again. "This mortal," says Paul, "must put on immortality." God, then, gives His faithful saints "the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." And what a victory it will be! It staggers the mind to contemplate living forevermore with God in an immortal glorious body, in an eternity where there is no more death, no more sorrow, no more sickness, no more crying, no more curse. But that will not happen until the plan of God is finished on earth, and the last soul to be saved comes forth from the waters of immersion into Christ. From now until then, there is much work to be done!
- Steadfast and immovable - For the saint, if he maintains his faithfulness, his hope is not a "maybe"; it is a "hurry up and get here!" We wait eagerly, Paul commented to the Roman brethren, "for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body" (Romans 8:23). But while we wait and hope, we work. "Therefore, my beloved brethren," Paul again addresses the disciples in Corinth, "be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord" (I Corinthians 15:58). It is a tremendous spiritual battle for the saints to advance the faith of Christ against the forces of evil and darkness. Hence it is that there are numerous warnings throughout the New Testament writings exhorting the follower of Christ to hold firmly to his faith while being jostled like a pinball during the years of his earthly sojourn. The saint, then, because of the confidence in his eventual resurrection, is to hold unswervingly to his direction, pulled neither to the right nor left ó neither to law nor lawlessness ó in forwarding the agenda of Christ. He is to be immovable, not swayed from the positions expounded in what the scriptures themselves call "the apostlesí doctrine."
- Abounding in the work - Until such time as God sees that no one else can be brought to repentance, there is much work to be done. Whether the saint is able to cut a broad swath or swing with a single sickle, the harvest fields stand white for harvest. But such harvesting is labor intensive. In another metaphor, the apostle had spoken of planting and watering the field of God. The exordium, in the face of such planting, watering, and harvesting, is to "abound" in the work. So, get out of those beds, get out of those doors, get out of those comfort zones, and abound in the work in the field of the Lord!!
The Lord Jesus Himself commented that, though the harvest was plentiful, the workers were few. One of the challenges in laboring in the fields and vineyards of the Lord is that the earthly rewards are outweighed by the vicissitudes of standing for the truth and the backlash of human nature. So those are exhorted to be "always abounding in the work of the Lord" are encouraged in "knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord." It is acknowledged by the apostle Paul that working for the Lord is toil, the work often being repetitive and without seeming to have any progress. But the great God of the harvest ó who backs the sowing, watering, and reaping ó guarantees that the hardworking, spiritually-minded saint, will have reason for rejoicing in the day of harvest. The toil is "not in vain in the Lord!"